Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Herrera took a babysitting job so she could send the money to her aunt and cousins. Daniela Hernandez flew her nieces and nephew in to live with her, squeezing them into her already too-small house. Christina Torres and her parents are cutting back on groceries and any “extras” so they can send a check to her grandparents every month.
With family still suffering in Puerto Rico, Hunts Point residents are making sacrifices to help them, even when they can barely afford it themselves.
“I went through my entire closet, and picked out more than half of my clothes to send to my cousins,” said Jennifer Herrera. Her mother’s sister and her daughters, Martina, 12, and Sara, 10, lost almost everything in the hurricane.
“Most of their stuff got destroyed, and they are staying with a friend because their house is in pieces,” Jennifer’s mother, Rosa Herrera, explained. She sends as much money as she can to them every month, and Jennifer chips in with the money she makes from babysitting kids on the block. “She is a good kid,” Rosa said.
Jennifer smiled. “At first I was upset to give away my clothes, but they need it more than I do,” she said. “I can only imagine what they’re going through. I love them and I want to help them.”
The Herreras are among hundreds in the neighborhood whose families have been affected by the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico. The storm destroyed homes, decimated farms and crops, and caused a countrywide blackout. More than a million residents are still without power, and have been in the dark for months, according to Status.PR, a report published by the government of Puerto Rico. Thousands still do not have access to drinking water. Gas stations are coming back online, with 927 out of 1,100 open; 88 percent of the island’s 456 supermarkets are open. Only 65 percent of the country has cell phone service.
“They don’t have TV, internet — we sent coloring books for the kids, and crayons, distractions, little things like that mean the world to them,” said Hunts Point resident Miguel Rodriguez, whose brother is in Puerto Rico with no power. “It’s not even money that they need — it’s the stuff, the supplies, the things you don’t even think about,” he explained. Since stores aren’t open, the family can’t use money and can’t even cook without power, so Rodriguez has been sending canned goods. “You take those things for granted,” he said. “Having a pen and a piece of paper is a blessing to them.”
Christina Torres’ grandparents live in Puerto Rico on a farm that was destroyed in the hurricane. Now, with no power and no way to make any money, they are in dire need of help. “Every paycheck my parents get, they send a big part of it to them,” Torres said. But her family still has to pay its own bills, and they are now struggling with the added financial responsibility.
“My parents are always stressed out,” Torres said. “We try to eat less food, because we have to save our money. Obviously it’s more important my grandparents get the money than eating some KFC or some extra chicken legs, you know? They really need it. But it’s definitely affected my family.”
Daniela Hernandez is still trying to get her parents off the island. Her two nieces and her nephew flew to New York after the storm and have been living with her, but their mother and father are still there.
“It’s a lot of money to fly here — money none of us have,” Hernandez said. “We were able to find enough from our savings to bring the kids over here but we don’t have enough for their parents. We are saving up as much as we can.”
One niece shares a bed with her daughter, the other niece sleeps on the floor and her nephew sleeps on the couch.
“It’s a small house as it is,” she explained. “Family comes first. You do what you have to do to protect each other. In times like this, we have to stick together.”
For all the sacrifices they have made so far, most here just wish they could do more to help. Anna Sanchez’s close friend Maria is in Puerto Rico, but with no electricity and no phone service, Sanchez can do little for her friend but hope, she said, shaking her head. “I pray every night, I don’t have much I can give except for my prayers.”